As part of PAPER's month-long "Sexpress" series, New York-based sexologist Shelby Sells will be writing weekly columns that investigate modern sexuality. Dive into her sexpertise, below.
Sex addiction is a growing problem in society. Professionals agree more and more people are struggling with sexual impulses (all the feelings resulting from the urge to gratify sexual fulfillment) that cause them to feel out of control, but are unsure whether or not to classify the disease as an addiction, sexual compulsion (repetitive and intense preoccupations with sexual fantasies, urges, and behaviors that are distressing to the individual and/or result in psychosocial impairment), impulse control disorder, or hyper-sexuality. Doubts and misunderstandings will continue to surround this affliction until a proper clinical diagnosis is reached. Sex addiction is a real problem that no one is safe from and through awareness, understanding, and open communication we can begin to breakthrough the secrecy and shame that fuels it.
In her Tedx Talks, Paula Hall addresses many characteristics of sex addiction and how to treat them. Through her 20 years of experience as a therapist, she has encountered and treated hundreds of patients who struggle with sex addiction. She estimates 5 percent of the population deals with out of control sexual compulsions. This topic is extremely controversial because some people believe it is a myth, joke, or excuse for negative behaviors. Hall assures us it is very real. Internet porn, cybersex, visiting sex workers, cruising, compulsive masturbation, multiple affairs, and frequent use of dating sites are all possible outlets of sex addiction.
While investigating other sources, I came across the same conclusion questioning the validity of this disorder being an addiction over and over again. Sexual addiction is not recognized by the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). So what defines addiction? Powerlessness over a dependent behavior. A dependency that causes significant problems, and despite these problems, the afflicted person still can't stop using. Hall confesses her patients who deal with this struggle say it feels like an addiction. A growing body of research shows compulsive pornography use affects the brain similarly to chemical dependency.
How do we know if we're a sex addict? Does your sex life negatively impact your day-to-day life? Is it ruining friendships, work habits, or romantic relationships? If yes, you may have a sexual compulsion and should consult a doctor, otherwise you may just have a high sex-drive and there's nothing wrong with that. To really gauge if you're having sex compulsively ask yourself this: Am I feeling good about my experience? A positive experience is a pure indicator of a healthy sexual relationship.
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Many people who struggle with sex addiction come from difficult backgrounds. They use to forget the pains of their past and numb present feelings. With the internet and smartphones anyone can get hooked. The internet provides easy access with no education of risk. More and more people are becoming addicted without even knowing. There are no visible consequences or side effects of sex addiction until it is too late. These factors are paving the way for this condition to become an epidemic.
How can we treat sex addiction? By finding the root of the problem. Acting out sexually is a form of self-sabotaging. It may be an escape from reality, a need for love or attention, or a way to heal the self. Seek professional help. A sex counselor or therapist can help develop a greater understanding of your specific problem and offer a unique treatment plan to aid your compulsions.
Sex addiction thrives in secrecy and shame. This devastatingly equal opportunity condition affects all people regardless of age, race, gender, sexual identity, or financial stability. No one is immune. We need to cease moral judgements, develop more awareness, and open up the dialogue surrounding sex addiction. We need to try and understand how and why it affects people and utilize the resources that are readily available to help cope with this disease. For more information and support please visit SAA Recovery.